In recent weeks, players have taken aim at the culture within both the Iowa and Oklahoma State football programs. In Iowa City, players voiced complaints about the way strength coach Chris Doyle treated them and coach Kirk Ferentz wanted them to present themselves. Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy was thrust into hot water this week after a picture surfaced of him wearing an OAN (One America News) shirt. His star running back, Chuba Hubbard, called it insensitive in a tweet, then former Black players came forward to levy accusations that the program attempted to whitewash them.
At Iowa, Ferentz’s no social media rule became heavily criticized. An attempt at a buttoned-up program, one that has long gone on without a public hitch, started to look more like toning down student-athletes’ blackness and less about uniformity.
With racial tensions high throughout the country in recent weeks following the death of George Floyd, college football programs are starting to grapple with issues of race as well. Iowa and Oklahoma State, the latest examples, might not be the last to come under an intensely-hot magnifying glass.
Nebraska head coach Scott Frost was asked Tuesday during a Zoom call with reporters if, to his knowledge, he or anyone on the coaching staff has used a racial slur directed at a player.
“I would be shocked to hear that any of our coaches have ever done anything like that,” Frost responded. “I haven’t been involved in every conversation that’s happened in this building or other buildings we’ve been in, but that’s not the type of men that I know that work here.”
Frost added that every night during fall camp, his coaching staff hosts team-building exercises that often feature outside speakers coming in to address the team on issues related to race, language and treatment of women.
“And every fall camp, we’re going to have one of them for sure about language in regards to that,” Frost said. “I think we try to educate the kids on what language they should use and what language they shouldn’t use and some of those words are not welcome in our program, from anybody.”
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At Nebraska, and at Central Florida, Frost has yet to implement any kind of restriction on his players’ use of social media.
“We’ve always been on the right side of this in letting our players have their own voice,” he said. “All I want to do is try to educate our guys to use their voice in the right way, and that doesn’t mean telling them what to say, that just means to help them understand that social media is a valuable thing because you can spread information but it can also be dangerous. I just want our kids to understand that how they portray themselves on that is, we call it, their “resume to the world” and to be smart about what they’re putting on those things. But we’ve never tried to stifle our kids’ voices. I want them to have the outlet to voice their opinions and say what they think. We’ll always encourage that kind of free thinking and free speech in our program.”
In recent weeks, Frost says he’s had individual conversations with players on his team to see how they’re doing and talk about what’s going on. Following Floyd’s death, Black Americans have taken to the streets to protest racial injustice in the country, and Nebraska has had several former and current players participate in peaceful gatherings near campus.
There hasn’t been a team meeting yet, as NU is still limited on gathering size by the COVID-19 pandemic, but Nebraska has had conversations behind the scenes involving players, coaches, and other members of the athletic department.
“I think it’s given us all an opportunity to examine some of the things that we thought we knew but might be naive to,” Frost said. “Anytime something like this happens and there’s strong feelings throughout the country and something despicable like that happens, I think it gives everybody a time to reflect. My biggest priority is to make sure our players are all treated equally, that our players all feel safe in this building, that we’re a team that treats everybody the same regardless of where they come from or what they look like.
“It has made me feel good about the environment we have here talking to some of our players.”
Frost went on to say he thinks a football locker room is somewhat insulated from social issues that would otherwise face people outside their walls.
“I said this maybe one other time, but I think sometimes football players can be shielded from some of the issues that other people have because within these walls it’s real easy to just be teammates,” he said. “I am proud of the fact that, talking to a lot of our guys, they don’t feel—none of our players feel—discriminated against or feel like those issues exist in the building. I shouldn’t say none. The ones I’ve talked to have all given me really positive answers on that. But, they say there’s no atheists in foxholes. I think it’s hard to have some of those issues on a football team. A football team gives you an environment for people of all different races and backgrounds to come together and learn about each other and see the good in one another and work together.
“Football teams honestly are kind of an example I think a lot of other people could follow. And we need to be an example because of our influence here at Nebraska Football, and we’ll try to be, but the best way I know how to do that is to continue to try to provide an environment within these walls where everybody feels safe and equal.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.